In “The Wedding Plan,” Israeli director Rama Burshtein attempts a more complicated story than she did in her debut feature for general audiences, “Fill the Void.” She doesn’t quite pull it off, however. But the film’s structural shortcomings will matter less to most viewers than the personality of the central character, Michal. It’s tough to spend two hours with this marriage-obsessed ultraOrthodox woman, who’s still single at the scandalous age of 32.
Less solemn than “Void,” Burshtein’s first film to be shown beyond her ultra-Orthodox community, “The Wedding Plan” has even been described as a romantic comedy. Given the tale’s mystical aspects, that doesn’t seem quite right. But the movie does have some elements of the rom-com genre: notably, a heroine who’s so zany that she schedules her nuptials without having a groom.
Persuasively played by stage actress Noa Koler, Michal is profoundly needy – but only of a husband. She seems to be managing the rest of her life well, and quite independently, running a mobile petting zoo that brings bunnies, birds and a snake to kiddie parties. And she looks after her friends and her sister, whose tumultuous marriage refutes the starry-eyed notion that a woman’s story ends with her wedding.
Yet that’s exactly what Michal wants to believe. In the opening scene, she even allows some sort of Jewish shaman to rub fish guts on her face, in a bid to change her fate. “I’m sick of being handicapped,” Michal says.
Then, in one of several disconcerting jumps in continuity, we meet Michal’s fiance. There’s no need to distinguish him from all the other Hasidic men Michal encounters on her quest, because he’s just there to dash her hopes.
He calls off the wedding, but she doesn’t. Michal keeps the hall booked for the eighth night of Hanukkah – a holiday that commemorates a supposed miracle. Then she calls two matchmakers and embarks on a speed-dating sprint. As a backup, she makes a pilgrimage to the tomb of a rabbi crucial to her sect.
That’s where she meets a touring musician named Yos – played by Israeli pop star Oz Zehavi – who’s moved by her plight. Although not ultra-Orthodox, Yos gets Michal in a way that her sidelocked suitors don’t. Yet he’s just one of several contenders to fill the void in Michal’s wedding plan.
All her machinations are perplexing in places. Events feel scattered in time, and characters who haven’t been properly introduced suddenly become important. Occasionally, it seems the confusion is intentional, as a means of conveying Michal’s own state of mind.
If she’s bewildered, so will be viewers who are skeptical of Burshtein’s view of the proper female role. Like “Fill the Void,” “The Wedding Plan” extols a woman who takes control of her life – just so she can give it away.
The Wedding Plan
Cast: Noa Koler, Oz Zehavi
Director: Rama Burshtein
Length: 110 minutes
Rating: PG (mature thematic material)